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A Way-Too-Early Look at College Football: Texas Longhorns

A Way-Too-Early Look at College Football: Texas Longhorns

Yes, I’m looking at college football. Partially because I’m hopeful we will have college football and partially because I don’t want to learn table tennis.

Every year I have high hopes for my Longhorns. Each new season presents an opportunity to get back to their 13-0, Rose Bowl-winning, national title-claiming selves. After that superlative 2005, things remained steady, with the team going 45-8 over the next four campaigns. In 2010, though, the road got bumpy, and we haven’t really been able to recover since, missing bowl eligibility twice in a six-year span. 

Recap of the 2019 Season

The Longhorns looked to be on track in 2018, finishing the season 10-4 and going 7-2 in conference play before defeating Georgia 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl. With high expectations entering 2019, Texas went 8-5, including a sloppy 5-4 conference mark with losses to Oklahoma, TCU, Iowa State and Baylor. 

The first loss of the season came against the eventual national champion LSU Tigers 45-38. Eventual Heisman winner and first overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow delivered the pass that laid any hopes to rest when he hit No. 22 overall pick Justin Jefferson on a third-and-17 to crush our souls.

That moment defined the two teams. It exposed the vulnerability of the Texas defense and showcased the versatility, explosiveness and strengths of the LSU offense. 

2020 Schedule

Sept. 5: vs South Florida
Sept. 12: at LSU
Sept. 19: vs UTEP
Oct. 3: at Kansas State
Oct. 10: vs Oklahoma
Oct. 17: vs West Virginia
Oct. 24: at Texas Tech
Oct. 31: vs Baylor
Nov. 7: at Kansas
Nov. 14: at TCU
Nov. 21: vs Iowa State
Nov. 27: at Oklahoma State

The Longhorns kick off the season with their home opener against South Florida in what will be the first-ever matchup between the two. It would have also offered a reunion with Charlie Strong as the head coach of USF, but he was fired after the 2019 season.

Texas will face LSU once again but this time the Tigers will be without some key offensive players in Burrow, Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. 

The Longhorns have won their last three against Kansas State but not without a bit of luck, winning in double overtime in 2017, hanging on for a 19-14 triumph in 2018 after taking a 19-0 lead, then claiming a 27-24 victory last year on a last-second field goal from Dicker the Kicker. I mean, these two produce some memorable games. This will also mark the third meeting between quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Skylar Thompson.

The Red River Rivalry! What a good time if you go for the food and fun, but not really a great time if you are a Longhorn. Since 2010, Texas has gone 3-7 in Dallas — 3-8 if you include the 2018 Big 12 championship game. Receiver CeeDee Lamb was drafted by the Cowboys and Jalen Hurts went to the Eagles but we know Lincoln Riley is a quarterback whisperer, having worked with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Hurts. Next in his lineup is Spencer Rattler. Rattler, who completed seven of 11 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in 2019, was listed as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class. 

Looking at Baylor, Matt Rhule turned that team around. The Bears went from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 last season but now Rhule’s on a seven-year, $62-million contract with the Carolina Panthers. He’s gone and so are nine starters from Baylor’s defense.

Texas is 2-6 since 2012 against the TCU Horned Frogs, who went 5-7 and missed a bowl last year for the third time under head coach Gary Patterson. Then again, looking at the players that were sent to the NFL — 10 total, including first-round picks Jalen Reagor and Jeff Gladney — that team was probably better than its record indicated.

The same could be said for Iowa State. The Cyclones went 7-6 in 2019 but their five regular-season losses came by a combined 21 points, including a 23-21 setback to Texas. With key players returning on offense, Iowa State could be a Big 12 threat.

Chuba Hubbard opted to stick with the Oklahoma State Cowboys instead of taking a shot at the NFL draft. That spells trouble for Texas and for the Big 12. Texas won last year 36-30 but will now face a second-year quarterback in Spencer Sanders.

Key Players Lost

I love my Longhorns but it wasn’t until the third round, No. 70 overall, that the first Texas player was drafted into the NFL this year. The highest-drafted player in recent times was defensive tackle Malcom Brown, No. 32 overall in the first round in 2015, and then guard Connor Williams, drafted No. 50 overall in the second round in 2018. Longhorns players don’t draft well and that’s troublesome to me.

That being said, Texas will have to replace safety Brandon Jones and receivers Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. Duvernay had 106 catches for nearly 1,400 yards and 10 total touchdowns during his senior campaign, becoming only the second player in program history to surpass 1,200 receiving yards in a season.

Key Returning Players

Texas will return 16 starters on offense and defense, including quarterback Sam Ehlinger. He’s shown improvement year after year in completion rate, passing yards, yards per pass attempt, touchdown production and passer rating. I believe Ehlinger has the ability to get this Texas team back on top. 

Coaching Staff

Tom Herman has been the head coach since 2017 and holds a 25-15 record but after a disappointing 2019 season, he had a complete overhaul of the coaching staff. Replacements include defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who comes with a 2014 national championship with Ohio State and four Big Ten titles. Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich helped Justin Fields and Ohio State to a 13-1 record in 2019 while averaging 47 points per game. Other new staff include Jay Valai (cornerbacks), Andre Coleman (wide receivers), Jay Boulware (associate head coach/tight ends) and Coleman Hutzler (co-defensive coordinator/linebackers). 

Way-Too-Early Prediction

I can confidently say the Longhorns will win four games: USF, UTEP, Texas Tech and Kansas. The line right now for regular-season wins is set at 8.5 (OVER -200, UNDER +170).

Games they could win: I’ll start the hype train now and say they will beat LSU in Baton Rouge. They were competitive in their first meeting, but it was Joe Burrow magic and now he’s gone. I’ll take Ehlinger over an inexperienced quarterback at Oklahoma. West Virginia is a tricky team but the Horns get it done. With Matt Rhule gone, they could get past Baylor.

Games they could lose: Texas flirts with Kansas State every year. This could be a good spot for the Wildcats. With the Longhorns potentially sitting 8-1, things could get really interesting with their final three-game stretch against TCU, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

This season could end 8-4. The 8.5 is a perfect line but win one of those final three games and the OVER hits.

Additional odds available

Sam Ehlinger +1200 to win Heisman
Texas +400 to make 2021 College Football Playoff
Texas +3300 to win 2021 College Football Playoff